Mech. Engineer Career Path Advice

Hi everyone!

I need some advice on my career path and I know some of you have the experience to advice me well.

I recently graduated as a mechanical engineer and I really want to work in product design. I have a good eye for aesthetics and I really enjoy working with solid modeling software, FEA, and pretty much all the engineering disciplines related to product design. I did an internship at a small design firm in Miami which was great; I gained experience working with industrial designers and learned some things. This firm however, is small and they can’t hire a full time engineer.

I feel that I don’t have the experience necessary to be hired as a full time engineer by a design firm since their engineering departments are really small and they need people with experience. I’ve been applying to internships in NYC since I have family there, but so far I haven’t been very successful.

I have considered the possibility of getting a masters degree in product design but all the programs I’ve found are in private colleges that are very expensive and I just can’t afford it.

Any advice on who to improve my chances of getting a position in product design? Anybody knows of a good and affordable masters program?
Also, please check my portfolio and résumé.
Every and any critique is welcome!!

Thank you very much!!


Congrats on your degree.

I have found in the past, that there is a lot of ‘grey’ area between traditional design and traditional engineering. We have had IDers that have migrated closer to ME, (some partially, or others fully) and have had some MEers that have done the same with respect to ID.

Personally, I would hold off on getting a Masters in Product Design, and first get a job in a firm that employs both. I would recommend trying to steer away from ID-centric companies, as I have found their ME teams small, their bench ‘thin’ and the depth of their technical abilities a little light.

Try to find a company that has a balance of importance on both design AND engineering. That sort of place and experience will give you a great lens into the interplay between the two, and would offer the ability to be one, the other, or somewhere between (i.e. a ‘technically-minded IDer’ or a ‘design-savvy engineer’).


Definitely keep trying to get a position at consultancy. You might also just skip the internship phase of things and go straight for a full-time spot as a design engineer.

There are plenty of consultancies out there that will accept recent grads. This is especially true of places that are more engineering based, but still are very heavy in product design and industrial design. You can get experience and decide if you want to pursue another degree in a few years. I had a colleague that quit full-time work after 8 years and went to the D School at Stanford. He started out a more engineering-based consultancy and moved on to one with more ID projects.

Use the Design Directory on Core77 to search for just engineering consultancies. They may not accurately show you how much of the company is engineering-based, but it is a good starting point for choosing where to send your portfolio and resume. There are 344 American consultancies in the Directory that list engineering as a core competency.

A quick example (in Chicago)

On a more personal note, I was pretty much in your shoes when I started out. I was nearly done with my engineering degree when I learned that industrial design existed. I was horribly torn – more school to learn something completely new or get a related job and pick up what I could by proximity. I sent out a pile of resumes to design firms and wound up with a position as a design engineer working with designers at a consultancy doing primarily the engineering side of product design. It worked out for the best for me – my personality traits and natural inclinations that led me to engineering in the first place helped me succeed as a design engineer. The work was constantly changes (10-15 new product development projects per year) and the pay was better than what a junior designer would have gotten with the same level of experience. I thought about going for the design degree at some point, but I decided it was not worth the investment as I am already engaged and challenged by what I am doing. I am still in product design, but with a different role – not necessarily worse or better, I would say, just different.

Thank you, this is definitely encouraging to hear! I really think that my skills and talents are perfect for product design and would love to work at a consulting firm. I will keep applying and will try to broaden the spectrum of companies I apply to.

Also since you are in the industry feel free to forward my resume and portfolio ( to anybody you think would be interested.

Hopefully I’ll have a success story like yours in a couple of years! Can’t wait to start working somewhere where I love what I’m doing.

It also might help if you pass your FE exam. It never hurts to have a little more proof that you know your subject matter.

Glad to know I’m not the only recent ME grad to just discover ID.

Also, how critical do is a portfolio to applying to more engineering design jobs?

I’ve found it’s pretty critical. Your work will be looked at by both industrial designers and engineers, and the industrial designers in particular expect a portfolio. It’s often hard to show process in a slick way (I just finished a giant spreadsheet covering all of the calculations for my thesis, and I’m trying to figure out how to show it), most engineering portfolios I’ve seen are just final images, and I keep being told to show more process, but ultimately it helps everyone understand what you’ve been up to in a quick way.

Sprockets, would you recommend stopping at the FE, or continuing through to the full license? I don’t think I’ve met a design engineer yet who was licensed, or I just didn’t bring it up with the ones who were, and I was considering writing it off. We also don’t have an equivalent of the FE here in Canada, it’s assumed that if your school is accredited you know your stuff…

So what exactly else should be shown besides the final image? Do we want FEA results? Sketches? Reports? I constantly see portfolios needed for design engineers, but there’s little information out there. The engineering side is more of the simulations, calculations, and modeling up what the ID thinks up of. I can only see that in a report format.

As for the FE and EIT, it’s fine since it’s a broad area of engineering. PE’s not too useful I’d think since nothing is specifically relevant to ID except for perhaps Mechanical Systems/Materials and Thermal/Fluid Sciences. The rest seem more like industry standards, regulations, and methodologies.

The PE license probably won’t hurt unless you come across someone that really has no idea what it means and thinks that the only engineers that have licenses are HVAC specialists and civil engineers. Bear in mind though that you need four years of approved work experience before you can sit the exam, so the PE is discussion is probably a little early for this situation.

There are three mechanical disciplines exams available - mechanical systems and materials, HVAC and refrigeration, and thermal/fluid systems. The mechanical systems and materials discipline exam covers machine design, dynamic systems, and mechanics of materials – it is proof that you know your subject matter and are comfortable designing and assessing mechanisms, product structure, load cases, and a lot of other aspects of a product.

There are two main uses where a PE can be necessary or helpful. Some states require a licensed engineer to be on staff if the company offers “engineering services.” While the definition is vague, having a PE around can protect the company from being sued for fraud (for claiming to offer engineering work without a PE). If you ever wish to pursue a career as a freelancer, having a license can be helpful for the same reason. A PE license also opens up the possibility of performing expert witness services. While not necessarily the most exciting field, being an expert witness for product lawsuit and patent lawsuits can be very, very lucrative (rates $250 an hour are rare). At the last consultancy I worked, employees were encouraged to get licensed – management felt it increased the prestige of the company to have more licensed engineers.

In my personal experience I cannot definitively say if things have helped me or hurt me. I am licensed and the last time I posted a resume online I did get a lot of hits from recruiters thinking I was in HVAC so it was a bit of a pain in the job hunt. On the other side of things, my salary increased 23% after getting licensed.

Thanks sprockets!
Would you recommend doing all three if we feel we’re capable? For example, my interest is in design, but it doesn’t mean I’m not capable in thermal/fluid systems, and I’ve had to do quick airflow calculations as a design engineering intern to confirm that the design was viable, even though we weren’t doing the full analysis.
I’m worried though that it would lead to some miscommunication as far as goals, like you mentioned.

For your license, it will say nothing about what discipline you pursued – there are three words on the certificate that are relevant and they are “Licensed Professional Engineer.” I am uncertain if you will be issued an additional license, but my instincts say that you would not.

You can, of course, choose to pursue multiple disciplines, however, the spirit of the licensing system (and the law in some states) is that you should only seek licensing in the area in which you have technical expertise and experience. For instance, my license would allow me to tackle civil engineering projects but as a PE I am ethically bound to defer to others work for which I am not trained to perform.

You can only take one discipline exam each time and as the exam is offered only twice per year you would be looking at minimum of 18 months before you are finished with licensing. My opinion is that it would not be worth the effort, except to prove it to yourself.

An additional consideration is that 50% exam will be discipline specific (thermal/fluids, mech and materials, or HVAC) and the other 50% will cover all mechanical engineering topics. Whatever version you might decide to take, you will still have to be capable of performing a basic to mid-level analysis of a problem set for any of the disciplines.

Thanks again!
To anyone reading this later, Canadian process is here: , though it varies from that slightly by province.

I know this is a late reply, but I also received a ME degree, later discovered industrial design, and considered going back to school. I decided to find a job in product design instead and found a position at a small medical device company in their R&D dept. The work at first was more on the technical side, but now involves elements of ID (UI, branding, aesthetics, etc.). Since I never took coursework specific to ID, I had to learn on my own. There are several good books available to get you started and this allowed me to focus on areas that I was most interested in.

There are several good books available to get you started and this allowed me to focus on areas that I was most interested in.

And there’s this website! :wink:

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